Europe’s Quirky Spring Food Festivals
From white asparagus to humble peas to the centuries old ham festival, these quirky food festivals are worth traveling for.
Spring not only means cherry blossoms blooming and ramps at the farmers markets, in Europe it signifies the start of the springtime food festivals. From white asparagus to humble peas to the centuries old ham festival, these quirky culinary celebrations are worth planning a trip for—and only come around during spring.
Foire au Jambon de Bayonne
Since 1464, Bayonne, a medieval town in France’s Southwestern corner, has hosted their annual “ham fair” saluting their beloved pork. For a span of four days, crowds gather in the Halles marketplace where the Jambon de Bayonne is celebrated, sampled and judged by a group of men wearing red capes who call themselves the Bayonne Ham Brotherhood. The guidelines are strict: pigs must be raised free-range in Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées, or Poitou Charentes, and slaughtered no less than one year old. Afterwards, the meat is salted and cured for a minimum of 12 months. The color of the ham counts too—a deep, dark red appearance is ideal. The top three hams are sold at auction at the end of the competition where attendees can taste oodles of ham from more than 30 proud producers.
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Día de Esparrago
Spain’s Basque country is known worldwide for its incredible tapas bars and stellar wine production—there are more than 400 wineries dotting Rioja alone. While that same locale is known to Spaniards as boasting the best white asparagus in the country. Referred to as the “white gold of Navarre” these thick spears pop their heads through the earth in late March and celebrated every spring at the Día de Esparrago in the medieval town of Dicastillo. The asparagus is judged on texture (it should be silky-smooth), fiber (minimal), and tenderness (far from limp). After a producer is crowned the winner, hundreds of kilos are made available to the hungry festival-goers and served in a variety of forms from traditional to modern.
Festa del Pèsol de Llavaneres
Every April the city of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres hosts a festival to show off their pride and joy, their peas. This type of pea, the garrofal or “green pearl”, is the most prized variety and thrives in the region where it has been grown since the 17th century when it was traded in Barcelona. Each year, the seeds are planted in October and harvested in April, when Sant Andreu de Llavaneres invites the world to sample dishes, purchase fresh peas and enjoy an evening feast with the humble pea as the guest of honor.
Cheese Makers Market
An enormous variety of cheeses are made in England from classics like Cheddar to more pungent Stinking Bishop to the vibrant Sage Derby. In April you can head to the Village Green in Beaconsfield, where artisan cheese producers from around the UK and Europe will come together for the Annual Cheese Makers Market. The event boasts makers like Lyburn Farm and the award-winning Teifi Cheese which are all available for everyone to see, smell, sample and buy. Founded by chef Alain Roux in conjunction with Premier Cheese and La Cave à Fromage, this is the only event in the UK where you can meet these special artisans while sampling 250 wonderfully crafted cheeses.
Sagra del Carciofo
If you’ve ever been to Rome in springtime you know that’s primo season to order Carciofi alla Romana—artichokes sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and breadcrumbs. April however not only means piles of purple and green globe-like vegetables donning the markets and restaurant plates, it means the annual artichoke festivals. Since 1951, the coastal town of Ladispoli just one hour’s drive from Rome, hosts the Sagra del Carciofo which pays homage to the region’s artichoke showcasing it everything from its unadulterated form to prepared specialities from all regions of Italy.
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Sagra de Ricotta
Fresh ricotta is made in all corners of Sicily, but it has its own “sagra”, Italian for festival, in the village of Vizzini, nestled in the hills between Caltagiorne and Siracusa in the Catania region. Though this is the cheese that most Sicilians correlate with Vizzini, over the years the area has focused on breeding dairy animals which now produce various cheeses, ranging from fresh to hard which are also available at this weekend’s festivities.
Sicily offers some of the first crops of strawberries in Europe; hence why the fruit’s arrival on this Italian island is something to celebrate. The town of Cassibile in the south-east provides such a celebration where the juicy berry is prepared in simple, sweet, and savory varieties like paired with mozzarella or stuffed inside a sausage.
Stay tuned for summer’s food festivals…